This is a sentence that was said to me during an inpatient admission last year and it’s a conversation I have thought long and hard about and I feel it is vital to post about because there are myths and stigma within the mental healthcare system and personally I find that quite shocking. If anyone should understand, surely it should be those who work in the sector?
At the time I was detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act. I was on level 3 observations which is where a nurse or healthcare support worker is with the patient at all times, also called ‘within eyesight’. Usually they sit on a chair in the patient’s doorway. So the healthcare support worker (unqualified) who was sat with me at this time said to me that I didn’t have what he would call true mental illness because I could hold a conversation. I was outraged, I was poorly enough to be legally held in a hospital, and to be watched constantly, of course I had ‘true’ mental illness. Yes, I could hold a conversation but what does that have to do with my mental illness? I was struggling with anorexia nervosa, low mood and suicidal feelings. It was a sentence that simply makes no sense, if I think back to my last admission all of the patients could hold a conversation. I would understand if this comment came from someone with no experience but this is someone working on a psychiatric ward.
There are many myths that exist within services and I think they are a lot of the reason why young people in particular are often not given the help they need. Another common one is, “but you’re well dressed.” It takes me 5 minutes to throw my clothes on and throw my hair up in a messy bun but unfortunately (or fortunately) being a 22 year old my wardrobe is full of Topshop, ASOS, New look and Primark clothes and my wardrobe does not suddenly empty and re-fill with ‘mental’ clothes because my mental health takes a nasty turn. Nearly every urgent psychiatric assessment I have had they have used the way I am dressed to basically say that I am fine when I have been so poorly. It didn’t matter if I had worn those clothes for an entire week, they would still tell me I’m well dressed.
I almost feel that when it comes to getting help from mental health services that there is a ‘young persons curse’ because my skin is youthful and my clothes fashionable and I can hold a conversation about the modern day because you know what I wasn’t born in the 60s or the 70s or the 80s so no I can’t be stuck in the past! It’s their ticket to say that the patient is fine, looks fine, will be fine when really it’s the polar opposite.
“You have capacity” is a sentence they used in the weeks running up to my recent detention under Section 2 of The Mental Health Act. This is when the thoughts were constant, everything I looked at was telling me how to die, I had the thought to hurt myself on everything I saw, everything I walked past, everything I thought about. I was screaming at them that I didn’t want to hurt my family, I didn’t want to ruin their lives and all they were telling me was that I had capacity, that it was all my choice! How did I have capacity? I could focus on or remember anything that was going on around me, I couldn’t think of anything else but dying but regardless of capacity I was unwell and unsafe and needed help.
There is a lot of stigma around mental illness, a lot of words unspoken and many myths floating around but if they need to be dissolved from anywhere, they definitely need to be dissolved from mental healthcare services.